In three yellow school buses traveling 85 miles south to Georgia Southern University in Statesboro on Wednesday, they got a taste of college life and what comes from hard work in the classroom.
The trip proved to be a learning experience for about 90 freshmen who earned it by passing six of their seven classes.
Westside has been rewarding its freshmen for academic achievements and offering them additional support through a program designed by its Freshman Action Team, or FAT.
The program is intended to encourage freshmen to perform well in class and to focus on their futures.
High school freshmen often have trouble thinking past what's immediately in front of them, Sandra Colvin, one of the school's guidance counselors, said.
"We want to encourage them to stay on the right track," she said.
During the bus ride, one student pointed at Burke County High School, asking whether that was Georgia Southern.
But they soon discovered that the university is much larger. They were impressed to learn about the size of the campus, which has grown to accommodate its 17,000 students, during a driving tour of the campus.
Matthew Shoemaker, a 2006 Lakeside High School graduate and a sophomore at the university, guided the group, pointing out tens of millions of dollars of renovations on campus.
During the trip, the freshmen met with an admissions recruiter and ate in a Georgia Southern cafeteria.
"I thought it was pretty neat that we got to get to come to college," Dacia Sookraj, 15, said.
Dacia, who wants to pursue medicine, was pleased to hear that the university offers degree programs that fit her interests, and she said the visit will motivate her to buckle down in the classroom.
"I know I need to study harder and play less," she said.
The trip sparked an interest in college life, and many of the students signed up to receive more information about Georgia Southern after a question-and-answer session with one of the school's recruiters.
Some asked about the university's athletics programs, while others asked about Greek life and the opposite sex.
Mrs. Colvin said a few freshmen spoke with her about the cost of college and what it would take to get them through four years.
Westside has taken upperclassmen on college visits, but Wednesday was the first time to take freshmen, she said.
Ninth grade is a "tough" year, a year when many students drop out, she said.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Westside High School's new Freshman Action Team is implementing programs to support and encourage the school's freshmen.
Last semester, students who were passing five of seven classes were rewarded with bowling and a field day.
This semester, students were required to pass six of seven classes to earn rewards.
The school's program will also recognize students for their academic accomplishments and involvement in school activities, as well as mentor freshmen and enable teachers to team up to provide better instruction.
Westside implemented the program because freshman year tends to be the year when most students dropout of school.